Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Freedom of Speech: Should There Be Limits?

When sensitive topics are mentioned during a conversation, it is sometimes hard for certain individuals to tolerate the assertions made by other people. When this happens, heated arguments are often witnessed. Yet, what happens when a country's government does not tolerate what you or I think about a number of issues?

Sadly, there are still many countries around the world where disagreement is punished by imprisonment or in other ways. Very often, even those surrounding the individuals who are accused of making certain statements are subjected to cruel treatment.

Nowadays, we live in an era whereby rapid worldwide communication has become virtually unstoppable. Many people have their own blogs and enjoy airing their views about numerous issues. Criticism of individuals and of governments has become fairly common. Having said this, a 2006 article included the following statements by Amnesty International's Steve Ballinger: "Freedom of expression online is a right, not a privilege - but it's a right that needs defending...We're asking bloggers worldwide to show their solidarity with web users in countries where they can face jail just for criticising the government."

There are people who argue that no person should be allowed to say whatever he/she wishes. When viewing the photo posted above, some individuals expressed great rage towards such protestors. Indeed, I heard at least one person saying that people like that should be killed! I totally disagree with such views. To me, there is a huge difference between merely protesting about something and planning to harm other human beings. I am not threatened by the individual who simply criticises the political party I support in the local media; I am scared of the person who is scheming to blow up a bus full of people.

At this stage, one may ask: how can you be sure that a person who is protesting in the street is not a terrorist? Well, I cannot be sure because I am not capable of reading a person's thoughts. All I can say is that if every person who says something nasty about one politician or another is regarded as a terrorist, our prisons would be packed with inmates! :)

If an individual feels that there is a reasonable likelihood that another person might be planning to commit a terrorist act, the authorities should be contacted right away so that they can carry out all the necessary investigations. Yet, simply ordering groups of people to shut up will not really serve to gag them. Censorship never works. By hook or by crook, those individuals who want to voice their opposition to something will find ways to do so.

I love talking and listening to people. It is important to listen to what EVERY person has to say. I might disagree with several individuals, but every disagreement is an opportunity to re-examine my views and to determine whether my attachment to certain beliefs can still be justified.

By giving people the opportunity to express themselves, it becomes easier to reach out to those with whom we disagree. It becomes easier to understand the origins of various thought patterns. In a free environment, debates are possible and dangerous minds can be persuaded to become fountains of peace.

Communicators of the world, keep on writing and talking!!!

Image was posted from an email I received.


MaltaGirl said...

Red, I agree that people should be able to express their opinions, but the people in that photo are calling for the "massacre" and "extermination" of those who offend them. I think that is going too far.

If some other person sees those signs and thinks "OK I'll do it" and goes off and kills fifty people, you can't say that those protesters are entirely innocent because they "only" protested.

Having said that, I agree with the rest of what you said about freedom of speech, although I am a bit skeptical about "dangerous minds can be persuaded to become fountains of peace" ;-)

Animal Rights Malta said...

All well and good, and I agree with all that you say. However, the line should be drawn when intolerant fundamentalists advocate murder, like the individuals in the picure are doing.

You can't have the cake and eat it too. If one enjoys freedom of expression, one should not abuse that freedom by demanding that others renounce their own freedom of expression or else they will be murdered.

Incitement to violence (or worse, murder) from anyone should not be tolerated.

La delirante said...

I think it all comes down to law enforcement. If people who incite violence and hatred are breaking the laws of their country then the law should be enforced.

Freedom is not onnly about rights but also about duties and responsabilities.

Andre said...

I agree with you on most points.

I personally believe in freedom of speech, and unconditional freedom of speech; even if this freedom includes the most vile holocaust denial or racist talk. I hate it, but freedom of speech should be absolute.

However the line has to be drawn at incitement to violence. I think Maltagirl and 'Animal Rights Malta' have made perfectly good points here; words such as massacre and extermination cannot really be interpreted any other way.